There are calls for new oversight of Metro Vancouver’s HandyDART service after the contractor’s parent company was accused of charging to transport customers who were dead.
MV Transportation agreed to pay US$184,000 last year for what it called “billing errors” – admitting no wrongdoing – after two drivers blew the whistle on what American authorities called “false and fraudulent representations” that went on for several years.
“The defendant would, among other fraudulent activities, make a practice of… collecting government funds for transporting passengers that could not have possibly used the defendant’s services, because those passengers were deceased,” says a complaint filed in Washington, D.C.
That alleged behaviour should sound alarm bells locally as TransLink prepares to put a new HandyDART contract out for tender, said NDP critic David Eby.
“When you consider these revelations of serious fraud, taking advantage of the public purse, it seems to be long past time for an audit,” he said.
HandyDART was privatized amid some controversy in 2008, with the $38-million-a-year contract awarded to MVT Canadian Bus. It was the first time its parent company, MV Transportation, had expanded into Canada. The company now also operates a service in Barrie, Ont., and St. John’s, N.L.
MV Transportation operates bus services in several American cities, including the MetroAccess service in Washington, D.C. and area, which helps move elderly people and those with disabilities.
The complaint says MetroAccess users would schedule their trips many weeks in advance, and would bill the transportation authority per trip.
But when a customer died, the company intentionally failed to cancel their trips, the complaint alleges, and then the company marked the fake trips as “Cancellation at the door.”
There’s no evidence of fraud in Vancouver. News coverage in Washington quoted a spokesperson for the parent company blaming subcontractors who didn’t “promptly convey updates to passenger information.”
Filings with TransLink show MVT Canadian Bus recorded about 11,000 “Cancel at door” notes in 2015. There are about 1.2 million trips a year. But a TransLink spokesperson said unlike in the U.S., the company isn’t paid per trip.
“The contractor is paid a fixed fee for administration and a fee based on the number of vehicle services hours on the road,” a spokesperson said.
Those trips would be billed according to a base rate and then by extra service hours, according to a contract provided to CTV News through freedom of information. However, the maximum annual amounts that could be billed were blacked out.
A spokesperson for MVT Canadian Bus told CTV News in a statement they believe the “decade-long partnership” they have with TransLink is working.
“There are numerous checks and balances in place within our contractual relationship, and both MVT and TransLink continuously monitor the operations to ensure everything is working as it should,” said Nikki Frenney-Wiggins, MVT spokewoman.
TransLink has committed to expanding HandyDART by 85,500 trips a year, and has conducted a review of the service.
A report released at the end of March issued 19 recommendations for improved service, including better training, extending a reservation deadline, and helping customers find and understand alternate modes of transit to reduce pressure on HandyDART buses.